Tented Canopy Is Not a City Set Upon a Hill: COVID-19 Has Made It Even Less Likely that Canada Can Get Its House in Order

New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada. (Public Domain via Wikipedia)

Despite the stalling tactics of certain Democrat governors, the U.S. is gradually moving toward restoring business as usual and rebooting the economy after a much-overrated “pandemic.” Canada, however, remains in lockdown, printing money it does not have to offset the closing down of industry and commerce, and sinking ever deeper into the economic doldrums. The mint is working overtime in the U.S. as well, but America is a dynamic nation with vast manufacturing capacity, fewer regulations and a pro-active president, giving it a high survivability index.

Canada is a different kettle of piranhas. Its fiscal condition even prior to the onset of the COVID epidemic was already in red alert with mounting debt, a supine economy, an oppressive and totally unnecessary carbon tax superposed upon an already taxed-to-death population, the flight of both capital and manufacturing to the U.S., steadily increasing unemployment, an idle petroleum industry, a stupefying narcissist for a prime minister, and a government policy directed toward “social justice” initiatives rather than toward a sober and robust effort to revive a moribund country.

I have recently heard from a valued friend who runs a B&B. He is thinking of selling his business and leaving the country, possibly for the Dominican Republic (where, as it happens, another Canadian friend now cheerfully makes his home). The entrepreneurial spirit does not thrive in Canada. My friend feels the time has come to take drastic measures if he is to protect his savings and retirement income from being effectively wiped out. An astute and published commentator on national affairs, he is convinced that taxes are about to rise exponentially to pay for an extended lockdown, that although money is being printed real wealth is not being created, that Canada is heading for receivership, and that the Canadian dollar, already trading far below par, will soon be worth little more than fifty cents on the American dollar. One no longer has confidence that we are intelligently governed or that personal solvency is a reliable proposition.

In an open letter addressed to Conservative Party interim leader Andrew Scheer, Gordon Miller, director of the advocacy group Canadians for Language Fairness, would agree with my friend’s assessment. Miller writes: “It is very clear that our hospitals are not being overrun. Moreover, there are important medical treatments not being performed due to the COVID-19 lockdown. Now, with this overextended process meant to ‘flatten the curve’, well past its best before date, governments at all levels continue restricting our fundamental freedoms. Our economy was seriously damaged by this government prior to COVID-19. Now, more businesses are going under despite the enormous amounts being spent to ‘ease the pain’. Clearly, we cannot expect this Liberal government to open Canada for business again anytime soon.” Miller continues that we must “open up our country before we kill many more people through the impact of permanent loss of jobs, businesses going under and a major increase in poverty,” and concludes epigrammatically, “This is the curve that now needs to be flattened.”

What is actually being flattened is our prospect for the future. The City of New Westminster, former capital of the province of British Columbia, boasts a grotesque retail hub called Plaza 88 that stands as a metaphor for the Canadian experience. Designed by architect Graham McGarva, its exterior wall is disfigured by a series of colored panels spelling out in Morse Code the city’s name and its Chinese equivalent Yi Fao. It also features in three-foot-high aluminum letters the legend “In Making Canada A Tented Canopy Set Upon A Hill,” a fragment of a poem written by McGarva, who also regards himself as a poet.

The inscription is apt. It is, obviously, meant to suggest the phrase “A city upon a hill” with its resonant implications, deriving from Matthew 5:14 and famously adapted by John Winthrop, the 17th-century governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. A city set upon a hill evokes the severe and noble ideal of justice, liberty, probity and righteousness. A tented canopy suggests a rather different paradigm, namely the primitive archetype of innocence, festivity, a weekend camping out with one’s buddies. The first is built to last, the second to be dismantled. The first is a mature conception, the second a childish fantasy. A city set upon a hill may, at least theoretically, withstand the buffets of political and economic weather. But a tented canopy is a rather different story. The recent COVID storm has battered the canopied tent practically to shreds, though it was already sagging pretty badly.

Canada was once, for all its cold wastes and sparsely inhabited territories, a beautiful country, rich with promise, reasonably well-governed, and blessed with abundant resources—electrical power, oil and gas, lumber, minerals and metals, a plentiful harvest of crops like wheat, corn, canola, potatoes, legumes and more—and a solid manufacturing base. True, it was a country still undergoing growing pains, prone to a certain smug conventionality, troubled by language problems and aboriginal treaty negotiations, and having yet to find its place among the more accomplished nations of the world. Nonetheless a horizon of possibility beckoned. That future is no longer in the cards.  As Canada’s premier columnist Rex Murphy writes in the National Post, “in Canada we have…shackled those industries central to the country’s capacity to own itself. And we have neglected and even disparaged the most central enterprises, diminished the respect for enterprise itself, leaving us open and vulnerable to factors over which we have no influence.”

Murphy is right. Welfare dependency, “social justice” pandering, a demographic of unassimilable and unskilled immigrants, open borders, inflationary fiscal policy, draconian regulations, runaway environmentalism at the expense of labor and productivity, the global warming boondoggle, a feminist cabinet that looks like it’s here to stay regardless of Party, generational levels of debt, and government overreach into private life have rendered the “Canadian dream” a dead letter. I do not see how it can be revived.

The issue I am addressing here can be summed up succinctly: bad poetry, bad architecture, bad medicine, bad economic planning and bad ideological posturing. I doubt that the Conservatives have anything of substance on offer to return the country to some semblance of sanity. I doubt that my fellow Canadians will emulate the citizens of Lansing, Michigan and descend upon Parliament Hill to demand responsible administration and a rebirth of personal liberty from a corrupt and repressive Liberal establishment. And I doubt very much whether our investment portfolios will retain their expected value or that we can avoid a penurious reckoning in the years to come. Like my two friends, many will have to find ways to stretch a shrinking dollar.

It’s a sad reflection but it seems that people are starting to get out from under the tented canopy and beginning to consider other possibilities—the DR, or some feasible surrogate—as a retreat from the organized madness that reigns in this country. For those without options, the future is grim indeed.


David Solway’s latest book is Notes from a Derelict Culture, Black House Publishing, 2019, London. A CD of his original songs, Partial to Cain, appeared in 2019.

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